Teens: Windows into our past

When we hear about teens, it’s usually accompanied by sighs and frustrations, not joys and revelations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Teens get a bad rap on a fairly consistent basis, one most of them don’t earn or deserve.

In recent weeks, with graduation in the air and kids returning from college to spend the summer at home, I’ve been fortunate to have sit-downs with some of my former students, to get a glimpse into how they have grown and changed since I last saw them, when they were taking finals and dreaming about their futures.

It’s been a blessing, to say the least. It’s reminded me how much I love teenagers, how satisfying and yes, intriguing, it is to see them transform before my eyes into young men and women who finally realize that their parents aren’t entirely stupid and that there’s more to life than what you want right at this moment. They are planning, thinking, goal-setting, and being practical. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a previous student who is now a grown young woman just finishing her freshmen year of college. From the moment she walked in, statuesque and beautiful, a smile as wide as the Mississippi River, I was in awe of her growth and maturity over a one-year time span. She had made the same mistakes I remember making freshmen year as she tried to find her place in her new college world. Hearing her stories, her frustrations, and her doubts, I was transported to my 19-year-old self when I was already on my second change in major, questioning whether becoming a sorority girl had been the right choice, and wondering if the guy I was dating could be The One (he was!) I was mesmerized by her stories of successes and failures, but more importantly, by the lessons she was learning, the experiences forming the foundation of who she will become.

Listening to her talk through her lingering doubts about her major, about what makes her truly happy, and about how she wants to spend her time, I longed to get those days back again. Remember when the world lay before you? When you could change your major four times and still be just fine? When you moved from group to group, discovering who you were and what you really believed? Those young adult years were profound. They were filled with promise, despite all of the unknowns, perhaps because of the unknowns. Our lives weren’t really on any particular course yet. We weren’t bound by obligations and monthly mortgages and jobs we don’t like that nevertheless pay the bills. I’d almost forgotten that feeling, it’s been so long. It was joyous to sit in its presence again.

I’ve always believed in the importance of multi-generational friendships. I have friends like this young lady who is 19, and I have friends who are 90. Each age and stage has something unique to offer, something to remind you of your past or to help you foresee your future. Being in a teenager’s presence is like staring into a mirror that reflects who you once wanted to be. When you dreamed, what did you see? When you hoped, what was it for?

My goal for myself has always been to have a “life well-lived,” in any way I choose to define that. When was the last time you asked yourself what a life well-lived looks like? Are you living it now?

Few of us wish to return to our teenage selves. But what we can do is remember what it felt like to have a life of promise. From wherever we are right now, no matter our age, we can adopt that attitude.  We can see our lives as wide open, ready to accept challenges and change our minds and take risks. There’s something to be learned from the young adult mindset. It’s never too late to learn it.

 

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Boys don’t care and other teenage myths

Call this post a debunking one. I’m going to debunk what the media, movies, TV shows, and advertisements want us to believe about boys. I’m going to do this with 20+ years of experience dealing with thousands of teenage boys, lots of research, and my own experiences with my son and his friends.

Let me start by saying that while some boys fit the stereotypical images projected on the screen, most do not. Turns out, teenage boys have a LOT of feelings. And they’ll actually talk about them with people they trust. So let’s debunk some myths, shall we?

MYTH #1:  Boys break girls’ hearts and don’t care. If you’re a teenage girl, it may feel this way, but most boys care very much about girls’ feelings and don’t want to hurt them. When they appear thoughtless and careless, it’s really more that they’re somewhat clueless. Girls are an enigma to them, and they truly don’t understand female thoughts and actions. But it kills them to see girls cry, especially if they know they’re responsible for it.

MYTH #2:  Boys don’t hurt. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen big, bulky, manly teenage boys weep. I’ve seen them squirm and fold up into a ball because they’re uncomfortable with how they handled themselves or they have regrets over their actions. Boys definitely hurt. I can’t count the number of boys who have been crushed by their first loves, who spend years trying to get over the pain of a breakup. Sometimes I think boys actually fall harder and faster than girls, and it takes years of practice before they harden their shells a bit and learn to move on.

MYTH #3:  Boys don’t worry about their appearance. Wrong. Boys primp. They look to other males they admire for fashion sense. They very much want to fit in with their peers. They worry about acne and will spend any amount of money to make it go away. They’re self-conscious if they can’t grow a beard, if they’re “scrawny,” too short, too thin, or overweight. Girls’ self esteem gets plenty of media coverage, but I promise you, boys have their own body image concerns, and they’re just as real.

MYTH #4:  Boys have it easier than girls. While it’s true that boys are entering a world where men still make more money than women and hold more top positions. they also still face a number of challenges. We may have come a long way, but most men expect to support a family and carry that burden throughout their lifetimes. They are expected to be strong and resilient, with little acceptance for weakness.

MYTH #5:  Boys only want one thing. Most boys I know are insulted by that stereotype. Truly, they are. I mean, society is basically reducing them to animals with this statement, and they are much more evolved than that. Trust me, I’m not in denial. I’m well aware of hormones, urges, and daily temptations. But a good number of teenage boys want relationships. They want to date, text, text some more, and take a girl they like to Prom. They want companionship just like we do. Sure, they’ll joke around with their friends and brag about their so-called “conquests,” but when you engage them in real conversation, you find that they want to be in a relationship where they can love and be loved.

My point is that we need to give the boys some credit. They are much more complex than we have been led to believe. They love, they hurt, they worry, and they care. If you have a teenage boy in your life – whether he’s your son, nephew, student, boyfriend, or friend – give him a chance to show you who he really is and avoid slapping unfair labels on him. You’ll be surprised what he will share with you when he knows you have a real interest in knowing him.

Why you should be thankful for your teenagers

I’ve heard a lot of words associated with parenting teenagers. Exasperating. Frustrating. Confusing. Very rarely do I hear someone exclaim, “I’m SO happy to be raising a teenager right now!” If I do hear it, it’s generally dripping with sarcasm.

But the reality is that teenagers really are quite a bit of fun, and they embody some lessons we would all do well to learn. So this Thanksgiving month, spend some time reflecting on what makes your teenagers wonderful and why they are actually a huge blessing in your life.

Come on. I’ll help you out.

  • Teenagers keep your argumentative skills honed. You have to be sharp in your thinking and your decisions, or they will call you on it. They will ask why until you want to strangle them. But be grateful, because they’re forcing you to ask yourself why, and I don’t think we do that enough. A little introspection never hurt anyone.
  • Teenagers are still children in a lot of ways. They will say things that will crack you up. They still take joy in the seemingly small moments. Their silliness and appreciation for all things farcical make them great fun to watch comedies with, crack jokes with, and laugh at extended family members with. One year over the holidays, my teens started a quote list for a particularly “interesting” family member visiting from out of town. They kept the list in a kitchen drawer. When the annoyances threatened to bring out the worst in us and the week was beginning to stretch everyone’s nerves a little too thin, one of us would depart to the kitchen, open the quote list drawer, and laugh. I never would have thought to do that on my own. Leave it to the teenage brain to create a unique escape from visitor stress.
  • Teenagers are adults in a lot of ways. They are sensitive, can be thoughtful when they want to be, and understand way more than you realize. You can talk to them, even about the big stuff. They can be wise and offer new perspectives.
  • Teenagers love you and need you. They don’t show it all the time (that’s what dogs are for), and they may not say it, either. Heck, they may not even realize it. But every time they sit next to you at dinner, ask you for advice, tell you a story about their friends, or even shuffle into the kitchen in their PJ’s, they’re telling you that they trust you, that you offer them a safe haven, and that they even enjoy your company.
  • Teenagers keep us young. They blast all the latest, greatest hits, dance the Nae Nae, talk about their Boos, and remind us what it was like to fall in love, become yearbook editor, and earn an “A.” We watch them play sports and it takes us back to our glory days. They introduce us to new technology, download apps on our phones, and make sure we don’t wear anything embarrassing. Without them – let’s face it – we’d be stuck in the past.

So you see, you have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to raising teens. They may wear you out, but they also build you up and bring joy to your life. Enjoy them now, because in a few years, you’ll be hoping and praying that they’ll be home for Thanksgiving.

Having trouble seeing the bright side with your teens? Let me help you! Check out my book Teenagers 101.

8 ways prom has changed since we were teens

I don’t like to remind parents of their ages, especially since it reminds me of my age, but sometimes we need to be told that times have changed since we were in high school. Prom season is here, and while we all have stories (and unspoken memories) of those glory days, we shouldn’t expect our kids’ experiences to mirror our own.

Below are the 8 Parts of Prom every parent should understand.

1. It begins with behind the scenes texting. The modern day version of getting friends to advocate on your behalf or make suggestions to potential dates is almost entirely electronic. Whispered words in the hallway are passé. Since most kids attend prom in groups (see #3), group texts facilitate discussion and keep everyone in the loop.

2. The promposal is almost as important as the prom. Move over Brangelina, there’s a new nameblend in town. Promposals, defined as elaborate ways to ask a date to prom, usually in the most public way possible, are expected and expensive. It made big news last year when average prom costs rose to $1,000, but it’s even bigger news (IMHO) that promposals make up $324 of that cost. Capturing the big moment on video is almost more important than who asks. Friends advise and may even take part in the plan. Entire Tumblers are dedicated to promposal suggestions and ideas.

3. The vast majority of kids attend in groups. Gone are the days of the couples-only mentality. In fact, many kids take a date purely for photo purposes. It is much more common for kids to attend as friends, rather than love interests. This is reflected in their music preferences (see #4).

4. Turn Down for What?  Ballads and love songs are out and energetic dance songs are in. While our generation couldn’t wait for a romantic Lionel Richie song so we could get close to our dates, today’s teen prefers getting down to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk.  Upbeat party songs that entire groups can sing along with are what it’s all about.  And here’s a freaky thought – they also like the “oldies,” which for them – get ready – came out in the 2000’s.

5. Prom is a production. Forget about the one-venue event prom used to be. Kids today have a designated location to meet up with the group and take pre-prom photos. They then travel by limo or stretch Hummer to a restaurant where they can all be seated together and post photos to Instagram. Then it’s on to prom for dancing and more photos and live videos uploaded to Snapchat, followed by after-prom.  Prom is about seeing and being seen. Many times, in various locations and with several wardrobe changes.

6. It’s important to look 10 years older. While the rest of us are scrambling to turn back time, teen girls are pulling out all the stops to make themselves look as close to 28 as possible. Plunging neck lines, slips up to there, scoop backs, bare midriffs, and strategic slits all contribute to the lets-forget-I-was-fighting-teen-acne-yesterday persona . It’s up to parents, and oftentimes schools, to determine what’s acceptable. Guys still coordinate with their date’s attire and generally dress traditionally with a teen flare – a statement tie, a hat, Mad Men shoes – anything that shows a spark of personality and color in a sea of black and white.

7. Prom costs big bucks. Remember that $1,000 average cost I mentioned? If you’re a parent of a boy, you may be pitching in for the elaborate promposal, tux, limo, dinner, after prom activities, photos, and at least one prom ticket. For girls, expect nails, hair, tanning, makeup, dress, shoes, accessories, and possibly their own ticket. Beauty doesn’t come cheap, mom and dad.

8. Acceptance is encouraged. While intolerance still exists, this generation has grown up in a society that more readily accepts differences. The integration of kids with special needs, the blending of races and cultures, and the visibility of same-sex couples has changed the way prom looks today. Check out the plethora of posted photos and videos and you’ll see kids accepting kids, showing kindness toward those who are different, and welcoming others into their circles.

As different as prom may be decades later, it remains a once-in-a-lifetime snapshot of the evolution of a new generation. Embrace it, parents. And imagine what prom will be like on the next go-around with your grandkids.

prom kids dancing

 

Teens aren’t as selfish as you think

It’s interesting how life throws you into conversations and provides coincidences that make you think long and hard about your convictions. Just a couple hours ago, I sat talking to a friend who lamented her son’s thoughtlessness and inconsideration. I won’t go into details to protect the not-so-innocent; suffice it to say that she didn’t appreciate her son’s lack of concern for her or her plans. We talked about how self-centered kids (even grown ones) can be and wondered how old our kids would have to be before they actually considered us when making plans.

One hour later, I came across this story while killing time on Facebook. It tells of a 14-year-old boy, who, in an effort to preserve feelings and be kind to all, purchased a Valentine balloon for every single girl at his school. He funded this gift from money he had earned and saved over the years. Extraordinary, I thought. So there are kids who think of others and make sacrifices for the greater good.

Actually, while the story was uplifting and sweet, it wasn’t all that shocking to me, because if I’m honest, I see kids committing acts of kindness on a regular basis. That’s the wonderful thing about being a teacher – I’m surrounded by kids all day long, and I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, the realness of young human beings who are so much more than the stereotypical selfish brats portrayed in the media. Kids, particularly teenagers, still enjoy a sense of youthful abandon. While we adults make sacrifices, keenly aware of what we’re giving up, they simply give because it’s the right thing to do at the time.  Kids embody the notion of pureness of heart and selfless generosity so often lacking in adult giving.

I have the pleasure of leading my school’s National Honor Society, where students perform regular service in and around the community. I also chaperone mission trips, where kids work all day, sometimes performing heavy manual labor and many times stepping out of their comfort zones, to help those less fortunate. I’m here to tell you that if you think kids are selfish and teenagers don’t care about anyone but themselves, you need to spend more time with them. I’m lucky and blessed that I get to see just how incorrect that assumption is. Kids are no more selfish or self-centered than adults, and in fact, tend to have unbiased and not-yet-cynical mindsets that cause them to reach out to others without judgment or prejudice. They help the impoverished without questioning the recipients’ work ethic or financial responsibility. They work among various races without rolling their eyes and muttering that their predicament is just so typical. They see need for exactly what it is – need – and they step up to fill it, no questions asked.

We adults may think that kids just don’t know enough yet, but perhaps they know something we’ve forgotten. Perhaps they remember that everyone deserves a second or third chance, that it doesn’t hurt to give, and that everyone, at the end of the day, just wants to feel valued. Whether it’s a boy buying Valentines for every insecure, longing-to-be-accepted girl, or kids traveling to third-world countries to provide comfort, kids are out there, every day, making a difference.

 

One glorious day

This past Saturday, I had a glorious day. Considering there aren’t many days I describe that way, I thought I would share what made it so special, so above-the-fray, so memorable.

I spent the day with my daughter.

Let me set the scene: It was a temperate 77 degrees in Houston. The sky was azure, the breeze just breezy enough, the leaves as green as you can imagine. My daughter and I had tickets to the Christmas Home Tour held by a local organization to raise funds for a worthy cause. For my Northerners out there, you might have a hard time imagining touring backyard resort-style pools in the middle of December, but it was just beautiful. I was grateful to wear a short-sleeved shirt and bask in the sunshine after years of shoveling snow and freezing my bootie off in Chicago.

At any rate, the weather and beauty of the homes notwithstanding, I spent hours with my daughter. We never checked our cell phones. We sat in a gorgeous country club eating turkey crepes and watching the golfers. We meandered from house to house, oohing and aahing and occasionally screwing up our faces at decorations that weren’t our speed. We wandered out to back patios where cookies and cider were served by volunteers of all ages. We followed sounds of violins and beautiful voices to live orchestras and singers entertaining from a nook of a kitchen or hallway. We discussed the logistics of hanging garland on a bathroom mirror (how do you see yourself?) or filling a dining table with decorations (how do you eat???) We imagined what it would be like to be a child, growing up in a bedroom that featured a separate dressing area, “The Princess Room,” and a view to rival the finest of establishments.

It was glorious, just strolling and chatting and dreaming with my daughter. Sometimes, I think to myself, what in the world did I ever do to deserve this? When I find myself asking that question, I stop whatever I’m doing and send prayers of gratitude up to heaven, because the fact of the matter is, I haven’t done anything to deserve it. It’s an unsolvable mystery why some people have many glorious days and others have none. But when I have one, I stop and say thank you. You should too.

My wish for you during the holiday season is that you will have one glorious day. My guess is that it will have nothing to do with expensive presents or the wow! factor under the tree. Find whatever it is that you can share with your loved ones, and do it. Revel in it. Soak it all in.

As for me, I owe my son a glorious day, and I can’t wait for it to begin.

Me and Rae

What are your teens devoted to?